GROUP 1 jockeys, a riding wizard from the west, gritty horses and accomplished trainers will hoist bush racing into the headlines in Brisbane on November 30.
The Country Cups Challenge, a race worth $105,000 and to be contested over 1630 metres at Doomben, has attracted a capacity field of gallopers running for 12 different regional townships.
Barcaldine, Charleville, Dalby, Emerald, Mackay, Mareeba, Miles, Mt Isa, Oakey, Rockhampton, Toowoomba and Wondai will each have a stake in the event.
At the top of the weights is the iron-willed Fab's Cowboy, one of three runners from Miles, the others being his stablemates Money Ad and Artie's Shore.
Trainer Bevan (Billy) Johnson has tested Fab's Cowboy over the distance on 13 occasions for six wins and three minor placings, one of which was at Doomben 11 months ago.
With Mt Isa marvel Dan Ballard riding, Fab's Cowboy shouldered 61kg and was beaten in a photo finish.
Form apprentice Baylee Nothdurft has the mount this time and, by coincidence, Ballard will be aboard rival Deadly Choices for 'Isa' mentor Damien Finter.
Ballard and Deadly Choices have proven a formidable pairing, winning eight races together, including five in succession beginning at Julia Creek on July 27 before back-to-back Mt Isa wins on August 17 and October 5, Cloncurry on October 12 and Richmond on November 5.
Ballard, who has won more than 700 races from limited opportunities, is considered the best jockey in the bush by the proverbial country mile.
Emerald trainer Glenda Bell is thrilled Larry Cassidy, whose 2113 career victories include 34 at Group 1 level, will ride her Cup hope The Baker.
Originally listed as an emergency when the field was declared, The Baker has obtained a start following the early withdrawal of Marlahn.
"The horse is doing really well and my only reservation is whether he will run out the trip but having Larry Cassidy is a major help," Bell said.
"I am really thrilled to get him. Larry is such a good jockey and I know he will give the horse every chance."
Barcaldine's hopes will run with the Todd Austin-trained French Hussler (Matt McGillivray) and Hunter Island from the Patrick O'Toole stable.
Austin and French Hussler have been in Brisbane for the past week, the trainer claiming the nine-year-old is in good shape and has solid form over the distance.
"He's won the Birdsville Cup and the Longreach Cup over the ground so getting the distance will be the least of our worries," Austin said.
"I'm yet to speak with Matty about any riding plans but he will know what to do. The horse begins well enough and he should get a good trip from his barrier."
McGillivray, opened his G1 account during the 2019 winter carnival when he claimed the Queensland Oaks, will be a new rider for French Hussler.
O'Toole and rider Les (Bubba) Tilley hatched their plans for the Cups quest after winning the Emerald 100 in early October.
"This has always been on the radar but we got serious after Emerald," O'Toole said.
"The barrier isn't the best but it could be worse. We know he will be strong at the end because he handles further, so the harder they go the better he'll travel.
"I reckon he will settle about midfield and then Bubba can pick his way through. If the others are stopping in the straight they'd better watch out because my bloke will be charging."
Stradbroke Handicap winning rider Jim Byrne will be on the Toowoomba campaigner Ritchford for Jackie Crompton. He will be the fifth different rider used on Ritchford since October 19 when Cecily Eaton was aboard. Sophie Wilcock, Kenji Yoshida and Hannah English have been sunbsequent race partners for the the eight-time winner.
The Cup field (with townships): Fab's Cowboy (Miles), Deadly Choices (Mt Isa), French Hussler (Barcaldine), Mason's Chance (Mackay), Clouds (Wondai), Hidden Budget (Oakey), Hunter Island (Barcaldine), Money Ad (Miles), Ritchford (Toowoomba), San Vincenzo (Rockhampton), Buxton (Mareeba), Eschiele (Charleville), Mustarrid (Mackay), Stone Warrior (Mackay), The Baker (Emerald), Artie's Shore (Miles), Immutable (Charleville), Luvya Beak (Rockhampton) and Pick Of The Pubs (Dalby).